If I told you I was eating potato skins and drinking a frozen cocktail in Ashburn, you might think I was slumming it, culinarily speaking.
Hardly. In fact, I’m sitting in a handsome, window-wrapped dining room. And the chef who has carefully fried those skins until they became feathery, then topped them with sous-vide chicken, mozzarella, and buttermilk dressing, is none other than Jason Maddens, former chef at Central Michel Richard in DC and managing partner/chef at Clarity, the esteemed Vienna bistro.
Snacks like those potatoes—plates that Maddens and his staff gorge on after a shift and that also include a goat-sausage corn dog—are among the top reasons to pay AhSo a visit. So are the cocktails, which include a minty bourbon-and-peach refresher and a gently spiced mai tai.
Maddens hasn’t abandoned his fine-dining roots, but you can tell he’s having more fun at this place of his own (it was all a dream, reads a neon sign by the open kitchen). An appetizer of tuna niçoise elevates the composed salad with a thinly sliced roulade of raw tuna, plus tomato confit and dabs of herbed aïoli and olive tapenade. A bed of grits shows off beautifully seared scallops ringed with chorizo and pickled fennel stalks. Less successful: underseasoned fried oysters, a play on Rockefeller.
Among the entrées, a duo of chicken shows off Maddens’s split personality. On one side of the plate is a perfectly roasted bone-in chicken breast, on the other a crunchy fried leg. A grilled bavette steak—as flavorful as flank—is nearly upstaged by a bowl of yuca that’s tossed, Mexican-street-corn-style, with aïoli and cotija cheese. Although a vegetarian play on spaghetti and meatballs is one of the few constants on the ever-changing menu (Maddens uses spaghetti squash and lentil-quinoa orbs in it), the riff lacked much verve. And desserts, such as a stale-tasting gluten-free brownie sundae, have tasted a bit phoned in.
Still, these kinds of restaurants—and this caliber of chef—have until now been in short supply in Ashburn. Maddens wanted to open a restaurant closer to his home, and he instantly fell for the Brambleton development and its town center. “Everyone who lives here has drunk the Kool-Aid,” he says of the neighborhood. “They all love it.”
Looking around the dining room on my last visit, I saw kids perched with iPads, friends lingering over wine, and folks pop-ping in for a bowl of the popular ramen the kitchen serves on Wednesday nights—plus a lot of full seats. Looks like Maddens has created exactly what the neighborhood needs.
22855 Brambleton Plaza, Ashburn; 703-327-6600
Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner.
This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of Washingtonian.